The Young Shakespeare (15): Upstart Crow

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Shakespeare in Titchfield

According to Aubrey, Shakespeare had been, ‘in his younger yeares a schoolmaster in the countrey,’ but when? In 1590, Shakespeare’s ‘younger years’ are running out somewhat, & we only have two more years to go until he is a smash-hot dramatist & the talk of all London. A year later, in 1593, he is dedicating his first poetic effort, Venus & Adonis, to a young English nobleman called Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, in which he describes his ‘unpolished lines’ as being written during his ‘idle hours’. The question is, what was Shakespeare doing when he was not being idle?

The answer is he was tutoring the seventeen year old earl, who disappears from the records between October 1590 and August 1591. He was, in fact, living in Titchfield, where his pro-Catholic mother, Countess Mary, was in residence at Titchfield House. His contact now with Shakespeare would blossom into a great friendship, with Nicholas Rowe describing how the bard;

Had the honour to meet with many great and uncommon marks of favour and friendship from the Earl of Southampton… there is one instance so singular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakespeare’s, that if I had not been assured that the story was handed down by Sir William D’Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I should not have ventured to have inserted, that my Lord Southampton, at one time, gave him a thousand pounds to enable him to go through with a purchase which he heard he had a mind to. A bounty very great and very rare at any time, and almost equal to that profuse generosity the present age has shown to French dancers and Italian eunuchs.

Finally, a possible & oblique connection between Shakespeare & Southampton is found in a 1592 letter from the Third Earl of Southampton is signed by him, but penned by somebody else. An American hand-writing expert, Charles Hamilton, has suggested the handwriting is identical to a portion of the manuscript of The Play of Sir Thomas More, which lies on solid ground enough in the world of Shakespearean scholarship to be given as the bard’s own hand.

It is now time to introduce a new dimension to the sonnets, a layer to Hisalrik if you will. We have established so far that Shakespeare wrote sonnets to William Stanley & to the mysterious Turkish lady in Constantinople. I am a sonneteer myself, & understand how individual sonnets composed to different persons may be synthesised into a paean to a single ‘ideal’ within a sequence. In the same spirit, a small number of the sonnets were composed to Southampton, those in which Shakespeare takes on the role of the older man urging the younger aristocrat to marry & have children. These are known as the ‘Procreation Sonnets,’ & form the first 17 of the 154 strong sequence.

There is a significant back story. Thomas Wriothesley, second Earl of Southampton, and father of Shakespeare’s patron, died on 4th October 1581, leaving the seven year old Henry as his only surviving son. Elizabethan law deign’d him to become a ward of the Crown, & placed him in the hands of a certain Lord Burghley who would in 1589 put huge pressure on the young earl to marry his own grand-daughter, Lady Elizabeth Vere, the daughter of the Earl of Oxford of antishakespearean fame. In 1591, John Clapham – one of Burghley’s secretaries compos’d & dedicates a poem called Narcissus to Southampton, which concerns a handsome youth who had fallen in love with own reflection. Shakespeare would handle the handsome youth motif differently, instead suggesting it was Southampton’s duty to marry & continue his beautiful physical lineage.

The Tears of the Muses

Shakespeare’s presence in Hampshire follow’d hard on the heels of Edmund Spenser himself, who was there in 1590. The poet Samuel Woodford, who lived in Hampshire near Alton, told Aubrey that, ‘Mr. Spenser lived sometime in these parts, in this delicate sweet air; where he enjoyed his muse, and wrote a good part of his verses.’ Some of these verses were included volume of poems called The Tears of the Muses, registered on the 29th December, 1590. They were dedicated to a relation of the poet’s, Alice Spencer of Althorp, who had married William Stanley’s brother, Ferdinando. , which in the scheme of our survey shows an increasingly narrowing world!

In one of the stanzas of Spenser’s new poem, we see the return of the same ‘Willy’ who inhabited the 1578 Calendar.

And he, the man, whom Nature self had mad
To mock herself, and Truth to imitate,
With kindly counter under mimic shade,
Our pleasant Willy, ah! is dead of late:
With whom all joy and jolly merriment
Is also deaded, and in dolour drent.

But that same gentle spirit, from whose pen
Large streams of honey and sweet nectar flow
Scorning the boldness of such base-born men,
Which dare their follies forth so rashly throw;
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell,
Than so himself to mockery to sell

That he is deem’d ‘our pleasant Willy‘ suggests a connection to both Alice and Edmund Spenser, which is confirmed through bond of blood, for Shakespeare’s mother was distantly related to the Spensers. Spenser’s description of ‘large streams of honey and sweet nectar,’ is reminiscent & contemporaneous with Francis Meres’ description of Shakespeare in the Palladis Tamia as ‘mellifluous & honey-tongued.’ That Shakespeare was ‘dead of late‘ indicates him as being between creative periods, while the ‘cell’ mentioned by Spenser points to Shakespeare’s taking up of a position as tutor to the Earl of Southampton. The cell seems to refer to a house near Titchfield Abbey, known as Place House Cottage, which was a schoolhouse at the time & where Shakespeare might have slept.

Shakespeare writes Edmund Ironside

The Earls of Southampton clearly enjoyed the Theatre – plans of 1737 show a large room on the upper level of Titchfield House labelled as ‘Play House Room.’ The tradition of theatre-making at Titchfield stretched back to before its Abbey had been converted to a stately home. In 1538, one of Thomas Wriothesley’s servants wrote to him, describing how Thomas’s future wife, Jane, ‘handleth the country gentlemen, the farmers and their wives to your great worship and every night is as merry as can be with Christmas plays and masques with Anthony Gedge and other of your servants.’

During Shakespeare’s time at Titchfield he created a play call’d Edmund Ironside, rapidly cobbling together a variant of his Titus Andronicus for a new audience, & setting it in Hampshire – the opening scene is in Southampton, while the Earls of Southampton are the main protagonists. It is likely he found the story in Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland – published in 1577, and again in 1587 – perhaps even in the libraries of Titchfield. Another source appears to be William Lambarde’s Archaionomia [Ancient Laws], a collection of Anglo-Saxon customs and laws that he translated and published in 1568, & of course the county of Hampshire is at the very of Anglo-Saxon England, with Winchester being the former capital of Wessex, from where Alfred The Great issued his laws. Fascinatingly, in the 1940s a copy of the Archaionomia was found with ‘Wm Shakespeare’ scrawled across the title page in what is basically Shakespeare’s signature…

Signature on Shakespeare’s will

Still in the library of Titchfield, according to Randall Martin, Ironside is a very bookish piece, inspired by Thomas Hughes’s neo-senecan tragedy, The Misfortunes of Arthur (1588), John Heywood’s play The Pardoner and the frere, Spenser’s Faerie Queene (published in 1590) – the source for several unusual words and phrases – & William Warner’s verse-chronicle Albion’s England (1586) as the source of “smaller details of character and situation”

To modern scholars, Edmond Ironside is a mysterious & anonymous play, with no records of performance in the period, suggesting, of course, its creation for a private performance. They all concur on one thing, however, that its a rather crude  & organized piece, with meandering plotline & irrelevant speeches and scenes throughout. The manuscript was discovered in 1865, when the British Museum purchased fifteen play manuscripts bound together into a single volume from a private library, known as Egerton 1994. Ironside certainly feels like it is bubbling up from a thinking Shakespeare – for it possesses familiarities with the Law, the Bible, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and country life, as does most of Shakespeare’s work. Meanwhile scholars have suggested it was written by him for the following linguistic reasons;

* There are 260 words that were used first by Shakespeare
* There are 635 instances of Shakespearean rare words
* There are 300 usages of the very rarest Shakespearean words
* There are 700 clear parrallels with the first folio
* There are 350 verbatim phrases

The most considerable echoes can be found in Titus & the Henry VI plays, & placing Shakespeare writing Edmund Ironside in Hampshire after Titus & before he began work on his famous cycle of Histories makes perfect sense. Thus, creating Edmund Ironside would be a catalytical moment for Shakespeare – it was his first attempt at writing English history, & within days. one expects, he began work on the trilogy of plays to Henry VI that would make his name & shoot his talents into the stratosphere. Indeed, when in  Ironside we hear the following phrases: “this noble isle,” “my pleasure’s paradise,” “the fortress of my crown,” “this little world,” “this little isle,” “this solitary isle,” “this realm of England,” we also hear echoes of Shakespeare’s famous phrases, such as, “this sceptered isle,” “demi-paradise,” “this fortress,” “this little world,” “this precious stone set in the silver sea,” “this realm, this England.”

Examining Ironside in more detail, we may observe that it shares with Titus a theme of rival candidates vying for a crown, while making mainstream some of the Roman play’s more tributary plots. There can also be made solid comparisons between the Edricus of Edmund Ironside & Joan Of Arc from 1H6. In his ‘Shakespeare’s Lost Play, Edmund Ironside,’ Eric Sams describes how it, ‘contains some 260 words or usages which on the evidence of the Oxford English Dictionary were first used by Shakespeare himself, with the strong presumption that it was he who coined them. Further, it exhibits 635 instances of Shakespeare’s rare words including some 300 of the very rarest, and 700 clear parallels with the First Folio, including 350 phrases shared verbatim. All these features are found most frequently in the earliest canonical plays of circa 1590. So the young Shakespeare is an obvious suspect.’ In his ‘EDMOND IRONSIDE, THE ENGLISH KING’, RL Jiménez has plenty more to say on the topic;

If Ironside includes and anticipates not just one, and not just a handful, but over 260 examples of words, usages, locutions and ideas which the OED attributes to Shakespeare as his first coinages.’

Edmund enters during a conversation begun off-stage, as often in Shakespeare

To compare one’s own characters with Judas and Jesus, in deliberate reference to the Gospel account of the betrayal, to make amusing puns on the actual words used, and above all to put the words of Jesus into the mouth of Judas; these characteristics identify the young Shakespeare in three separate plays (3H6, R2, LLL) of the early 1590s.

On any analysis, Shakespeare at the time of Titus c. 1589 was steeped in Ovid, including Book I (banquet of Lycaon, story of Io) as well as III (Actaeon), XIII (Hecuba) and so probably X (Orpheus) as well. The same is true of the author of Ironside c. 1588. Unless it is safe to assume that two Tudor dramatists showed the same concentration on the same books of the same works of the same poet at the same time there is a good case for identification on those grounds alone.

Edricus delivers a fifty-line soliloquy in the manner of Richard III, Iago, or Aaron in Titus Andronicus, in which he recounts what a villain he is

In a scene even shorter than the nearly identical one in the last act of Shakespeare’s Henry V, Canute meets Egina, offers her a cup of wine, and proposes––all in the space of thirty lines.

A leading scholar of the Elizabethan drama, Frederick Boas, observed that the dramatist portrayed Edricus as a “Machiavellian intriguer” who has the “stamp of Renaissance Italy rather than of Anglo-Saxon England”

Hendiadys––where two words expressing the same idea are joined by a conjunction––is another rhetorical device that Shakespeare used abundantly in his early writings. Albert Feuillerat found 86 examples, such as “reek and smoke,” “shake and shudder,” “dread and fear,” and “repose and rest,” in Venus and Adonis and Lucrece(61-2). They are relatively rare in Marlowe, but appear in profusion throughout Edmond Ironside––6 in the first scene alone.

Dozens of images, themes, and symbols found in both the anonymous play and in his accepted works, especially in the early plays, attest to the thought patterns of a single mind: people likened to plants, insects, birds and beasts of all kinds; blood that is shed or drunk; severed heads; soldiers who stand watch, who desert, who are betrayed, or deprived of necessities; evil and traitorous flatterers; emotional women; stubborn Jews; kings who are betrayed and rant about Judas; vows of revenge; children parting from their mothers; portents in the skies; plots that hammer in the head; passions that boil, rage, or ignite; feigned laughter; dark sighs; salt tears; Troy ablaze, etc. There are over seventy such motifs in Ironside that are repeated in Titus Andronicus, Henry VI, Parts I, II, and III, Richard II, and Richard III

In Act IV of Ironside, Emma recounts her anguish as she tearfully dispatches her two small sons to Normandy for safekeeping:
to dam my eyes were but to drown my heart like Hecuba the woeful queen of Troy who having no avoidance of her grief ran mad for sorrow ’cause she could not weep (1477-80)
In Titus Andronicus, as the ravished and mutilated Lavinia runs after him, the young Lucius struggles to understand her grief:
I have heard my grandsire say full oft extremity of griefs would make men mad
and I have read that Hecuba of Troy ran mad for sorrow. (4.1.18-21)

Another example is Canute’s comparison of the destruction he will wreak upon “new Troy” (London) with that suffered by ancient Troy, which he describes as “consumed to ashes and to coals/ with flaming fire . . . ” Similar references to Troy-on-fire are scattered throughout Shakespeare’s works: five in Lucrece (1468, 1474-6, 1491, 1523-4, 1561); three in Titus Andronicus (3.1.70, 3.2.28, 5.3.84); two in Henry VI, Part 2 (1.4.17, 3.2.118); and one each in Henry IV, Part 2 (1.1.73), Julius Caesar (1.2.113), and Hamlet (2.2.466).

The dramatist also specifies the weapon––an axe, unmentioned in the chronicles. Stich is the execu- tioner, and the “Ha. Ha. Ha.” reaction of Edricus, followed by Canute’s question, “Why laughest thou, Edricus?” are identical to similar laughs and questions after similar gruesome acts in Henry VI, Part I (2.2.42-3), and Titus Andronicus (3.1.65). The brutal mutilation scene extends to more than 160 lines. As Boas says, “No detail of physical horror is spared; the atmosphere is as foul and asphyxiating as in the notorious scenes in Titus Andronicus”

Act III opens with another irrelevant scene that is unique in Elizabethan drama. It is a vicious and abusive quarrel between the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, who are presented in their historical positions on opposite sides of the war. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who favors Canute, asserts his authority over York, calls him an “irreligious prelate,” and demands that he yield to him. The Archbishop of York replies by calling Canterbury a traitor, a rebel, a betrayer of his King, a profane priest, a Pharisee, and a parasite. After three exchanges of this type, York flees the stage and Canterbury follows, threatening to club him. Neither is heard from again. A similar exchange occurs in the third scene of Act I of Henry VI, Part I between Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and Lord Protector of the King, and his rival, Henry Beaufort, the Bishop of Winchester. The language and the level of invective are remarkably similar, and there are identical threats of violence.

Finally, & quite significantly as appertaining to my investigation, having begun to believe that Shakespeare had transcribed the Mystery Plays in Burnley, Sams says;

As commentators have noted, however, Judas does indeed greet Jesus thus {all hail} in certain surviving texts of the mediaeval Mystery Play both at York (Schoenbaum, 1975, 48) and Chester (Milward, 1973, 33). There are strong independent grounds for supposing that Shakespeare had indeed seen such plays, already outmoded in his lifetime but still surviving in certain centres during his younger years; he refers to them in such phrases as ‘it out-Herods Herod’, ‘the old Vice’, and so on.

Shakespeare begins the History Cycle

Shakespeare’s great sequence of history plays covers pretty much the whole of the dynastic War of the Roses, that dividing of England & Englishness which ran & ran & ran for deacdes of division, slaughter & power politics. The conflict was fought our between two royal houses, that of Lancaster & that of York, & ‘there is general agreement,‘ writes Lefranc, ‘that Shakespeare, in the historical dramas he devoted to the wars of the Roses, in spite of his usual impartiality, shows himself Lancastrian.’ This makes sense, for Shakespeare’s own great-grandfather fought at Bosworth field on the side of Henry Tudor, as suggested by Shakespeare’s father when he applied to the College of Heralds for a family coat of arms in 1596. A draft prepared by William Dethick, the garter king-of-arms, declared by ‘credible report’ that John Shakespeare’s, ‘parentes & late antecessors were for their valeant & faithfull service advanced & rewarded by the most prudent prince King Henry the seventh of famous memorie, sythence whiche tyme they have contiewed at those partes in good reputacion & credit.’

‘Shakespeare rearranged history,‘ says E. A. J. Honigmann ‘so as to make Stanley’s services to the incoming Tudor dynasty seem more momentous than they really were.’ The History plays definitely inflate the role of the Stanleys in the creation of the Tudor state, which end of course a Stanley-sponsored Shakespeare would achieve. The 1st Earl of Derby, Thomas Stanley, was created as such by Henry VII after the Battle of Bosworth, which role was dramatized in Richard III. Shakespeare famously portrays Richard III as a heinous villain, which was handy for the Stanleys seeing as Thomas & his kinsman, William, both betrayed the last Plantaganet king at Bosworth. This led to the moment when the whole Tudor dynasty began, as Thomas Stanley pluck’d the crown from the dead Richard and then places it on Henry’s head.

Taking his matter from Raphael Holinshed’s ‘Chronicles of England, Scotlande, & Irelande,’ our bard wove together a wonderful piece of drama in which he ressurected history & brought it alive like no other had done before. Not long after seeing it, Thomas Nashe wrote;

How would it have joyed brave Talbot, the terror of the French, to think that after he had lain two hundred years in his tomb, he should triumph again on the stage, and have his bones new embalmed with the tears of ten thousand spectators at least (at several times) who in the tragedian that represents his person imagine they behold him fresh bleeding.

Significantly, John Talbot was also the name of William Stanley’s very good friend, John Talbot, who would be later knighted by King James at Lathom House itself.

When creating his history cycle, Shakespeare drew from his time spent with the Queen’s Players, & especially one of the plays in their repertoire, The Famous Victories of Henry V. We know it was theirs as on its publication in 1598, the play was advertised as acted by ‘her Queen’s Majesty’s Players.’ C.A. Greer points out fifteen plot elements of the Famous Victories that are to be found with greater detail in the trilogy. These include the robbery at Gad’s Hill of the King’s receivers, the meeting of the robbers in an Eastcheap Tavern, the reconciliation of the newly crowned King Henry V with the Chief Justice, the gift of tennis balls from the Dauphin, and Pistol’s encounter with a French soldier (Dericke’s in The Famous Victories).

Another ‘anonymous’ history play might be included in the Shakespearean canon. Printed in 1596, Edward III was at least co-author’d by Shakespeare. What is interesting is that it contains several gibes at Scotland and the Scottish people, which might reflect the bard’s own experience of his time at the court of King James. This could also explain why the play was not included in the First Folio of Shakespeare’s works, which was published after the Scottish King James had succeeded to the English throne in 1603. If Macbeth is the ‘Scottish Play,’ then Edward III is the ‘anti-Scottish play.’ Accepted by modern scholars as authentic Shakespeare, the tradition goes back to at least 1760, when Edward Capell suggested as much in his ‘Prolusions; or, Select Pieces of Ancient Poetry, Compil’d with great Care from their several Originals, and Offer’d to the Publicke as Specimens of the Integrity that should be Found in the Editions of worthy Authors.‘ There are even passages which are direct quotes from Shakespeare’s sonnets, most notably the line “lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds” (sonnet 94) and the phrase “scarlet ornaments”, as used in sonnet 142.

Shakespeare meets John Florio

John Florio was the most famous Italian in Elizabethan England. He was also a tutor to the Earl of Southampton at some point… the dates have never been established. We do know that in his Italian-English dictionary publish’d in 1598, he states he had lived ‘some yeeres ‘ in the ‘paie & patronage‘ of the earl as his tutor in Italian & French. It is possible to get to the key date of 1591 thro a single sonnet which appears in the introduction to Florio’s book, ‘Second Frutes.’ This series of discussions in Italian contains, in the second dialogue, two speakers call’d John & Henry, clearly mirroring Florio & The Earl of Southampton. Indeed, the topics touched on in the Second Fruits, like primero, the theatre, love, and tennis, represent Southampton’s tastes.

Phaeton to his Friend Florio

Sweet friend, whose name agrees with thy increase
How fit a rival art thou of the spring!
For when each branch hath left his flourishing,
And green-locked summer’s shady pleasures cease,
She makes the winter’s storms repose in peace
And spends her franchise on each living thing:
The daisies spout, the little birds do sing,
Herbs, gums, and plants do vaunt of their release.
So when that all our English wits lay dead
(Except the laurel that is evergreen)
Thou with thy fruits our barrenness o’erspread
And set thy flowery pleasance to be seen.
Such fruits, such flowerets of morality
Were ne’er befroe brought out of Italy.

This is an excellent sonnet, fermenting nicely with Shakespearean terms, conceits, and images. Indeed, just as the Phaeton sonnet and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 1 both end their first lines with increase, so the Phaeton sonnet and Sonnet 1 both rhyme on spring. In The Life and Times of William Shakespeare, Levi opines, “no other writer of sonnets is as good as this except Spenser, but Spenser would have signed it. The humour is Shakespeare’s, and so is the movement of thought, so is the seasonal coloring.” What is not Shakespeare’s is the rhyme scheme – it uses the “Spenserian”  “abba abba cdcdee” instead of his preferred “abab cdcd efef gg”. But in 1591 Spenser was all the rage & in Hampshire, so…

Sonnets 97 and 98 are surely the work of the same hand that wrote the Phaeton sonnet, which they echo in the words winter, pleasure, bareness, summer’s, increase, decease, fruit, birds, sing, spring, sweet, flowers, shadow, and various synonyms and paraphrases. Line 11’s ‘o’erspread’ reflects Shakespeare’s fondness for the prefix o’er; the Sonnets give us o’ercharg’d, o’ergreen, o’erpress’d, o’ersnow’d, o’ersways, and o’erworn, among other constructions. Elsewhere, his plays boast such odd coinages as o’erwrastling and o’erstunk! Line 4’s ‘and green-locked summer’s shady pleasures cease,‘ feels very Shakespearean. Compare Sonnet 18: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” See also “Making no summer of another’s green” (68); “The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet” (94); “For summer and his pleasures wait on thee” (97); and this quatrain from 12:

When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard.

Phaeton is found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the son of Phoebus Apollo who drives his father’s chariot, only to scorch the earth and fall to his death.  An accident then, which leads to Sonnet 37 & Shakespeare’s mentioning of him in a tutor-like, fatherly role, & having been ‘made lame by fortune’s dearest spite.’ Was this why Shakespeare was in the country – recuperating from a broken leg or something!

As a decrepit father takes delight
To see his active child do deeds of youth,
So I, made lame by fortune’s dearest spite,
Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth.
For whether beauty, birth, or wealth, or wit,
Or any of these all, or all, or more,
Entitled in thy parts do crowned sit,
I make my love engrafted to this store:
So then I am not lame, poor, nor despised,
Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give
That I in thy abundance am sufficed
And by a part of all thy glory live.
     Look, what is best, that best I wish in thee:
     This wish I have; then ten times happy me!

Shakespeare Begins Romeo & Juliet

Another play that Shakespeare was working on at Titchfield is that famous tale of star-crossed lovers, Romeo & Juliet. We know it was written befor 1595, & a line uttered by Juliet’s nurse gives us a credible date.

‘Tis since the earthquake now eleven years

In April 1580, a magnitude 5.5 earthquake caused extensive damage in the south-east of England and in London, two people were killed. If this is the earthquake Shakespeare is referring to, then Romeo & Juliet is being written in 1591. It is also being written the following year, as it contains nods to a 1592 romance by Samuel Daniel called The Complaint of Rosamond; the relevant passages include the description by Rosamond’s ghost of her death by poison and of Henry II’s mourning at his mistress’s bier (603-79) which remerges in Romeo’s lament over Juliet’s body (V.iii.92-115). In Daniel, a few line later, he gives us Rosamund’s epitaph;

And after ages monuments shall find, Shewing thy beauties title not thy name, Rose of the world that sweetned so the same.

We here see wordplay on Rosamund’s name – where her ‘beauties title’ (rosa mundi) is not her real name (rosa munda). These, & the word ‘sweetened’ leads us naturally to Juliet’s famous declaration;

O, be some other name! What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title.

Romeo & Juliet would have resonated with the Southampton family, The Third Earl’s maternal grandfather, Antony Browne, was a pal of King Philip II of Spain, who created him Viscount Montague in September, 1554. Romeo & Juliet, of course, is a play which features a feud between the Montagues & the Capulets! A forbidden, homosexual love between Southampton & Shakespeare may only be speculated on,& might be a feature embedded in the play, but there is no proof…  as of yet.

In Romeo & Juliet we can a taste a little of Shakespeare;’s Grand Tour with Stanley. Romeo’s expresses his love via  the metaphors of the sonneteering Petrarchist school of Serafino Aquilano. In a tragedy by Luigi Groto, the Adriana (publ. 1578), which is also inspired by the story of Romeo and Juliet, two passages spoken by a character call’d Latino contain similes used by Romeo, while also mentioning a nightingale in the parting scene.

The Premier of Shakespeare’s Battle of Alcazar

Philip Henslowe was a London businessman who built the Rose playhouse in 1587. He also kept a priceless of diary of plays & their takings which contains some of Shakespeare’s debuts. Here’s the Spring season of 1592;

19 – fryer bacone & friar bungay –
20 – muly mulloco
21 – Orlando –
23 – Don Horatio
24 – Sir John Mandeville
25 – Harey of Cornwall
26 – The Jew of Malta
28 – Clorys & Orgasto

2 – Matchavell
3 – henry Vi
4 – Pope John
4 – Bendo & Richardo
6 – 4 plays in one
8 – The looking glass
9 – Zenobia
14 – Jeronimo
21 – Constantine
22 – Jerusalem

6 – Brandymer
10 – the comedy of jeronimo
11 – titus & vespasian 3 – 4 – 0
28 – tamberlayne part 2 – 3 4 – 0
28 – the tanner of denmark –

The second of these plays, muly mulloco, perform’d on the 21st of February, & should be the same as a play first performed by Lord Strange’s Men call’d the ‘The Battell of Alcazar’ as one of the characters in the play refers to another as ‘Muly Molucco,’ a name which appears nowhere else in Elizabethan drama. The play’s proper title, as printed in its quarto edition, is ‘The Battell of Alcazar, fought in Barbarie, between Sebastian king of Portugal, and Abdelmelec king of Marocco.

Topical references to the Armada suggest the play was written 1588-1589 & there are traces of Stanley-Shakepeare coauthorship. When in North Africa together, they would have listened to tales of the Battle of Ksar El Kebir (Alcazar), fought in northern Morocco on the 4th of August 1578. Brian Vickers shows numerous verbal echoes between the co-authored parts of Titus Andronicus & the Alcazar including a highly similar double consonantal alliteration. Macdonald P Jackson also highights how the weird formalities of the first Act of Titus have been mirrored by those of the Alcazar.

A Star is Born

In early 1592, the world at large became witness to Henry VI part 1, performed by Ferdinando Stanley’s Lord Strange’s Men. This makes Lord Strange’s Men the first acting company to be ‘officially’ associated with a Shakespeare play. After an unprecedented six performaces at court over the winter season, they began playing in the capital’s theatres, including the Rose, which had opened on February 19th, 1592. In his diary, the Rose’s theatre manager, Philip Henslowe recorded quite succinctly that on the 3rd March 1592, he had seen a ‘ne’ play called ‘Harey the vj.’ This play seems to be Henry VI part 1 by Shakespeare, for in the August of that year, in his Pierce Penniless, Thomas Nashe refers to a play he had recently seen which featured a rousing depiction of Lord Talbot, a major character in Henry VI part 1. Takings for ‘Harey the vj.’ were three pounds, sixteen shillings & eightpence, which equates to 16,444 pennies in the ‘box’ – a clear hit! I mean lets be honest, the paying public would have been amazed, there was a new kid on the block & Shakespeare had thrust himself onto the public imagination in much the same way George Lucas did with his Star Wars trilogy.

Shakespeare attacked by Greene

Shakespeare’s plays were clearly a hit, but true fame is always laced with a splash of envious outside spite. Enter fellow playwright, Robert Greene who, writing practically on his deathbed, vilifies Shakespeare in his Groatsworth of Wit as, ‘an vpstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and beeing an absolute Iohannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.’ The reference to Shakespeare being a jack of all trades, a ‘johannes fac totum,’ could well be implying his status as Southampton’s teacher. By parodying Shakespeare’s line ‘O tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide,‘ (Henry VI, part 3), it is clear Greene is alluding to Shakespeare in quite jealous tones.

In the same pamphlet, Greene seems also to refer to Shakespeare’s participation with the Queen’s Players, on whose formation in 1583 were given the title, ‘grooms of the chamber.’ Greene writes; ‘it is pity men of such rare wits [Nashe, Marlowe and Peele] should be subject to the pleasures of such rude grooms.’ The old order was dying, Robert Greene would pass away on the 2nd September 1592, by which time a completely new form of theatre was springing up about the marvellous & remarkable quill of an ‘uneducated’ Warwickshire yeoman. By the end of the year, even Greene’s publisher was climbing aboard the bandwagon, when in a preface to Kind-Harts Dreame by Henry Chettle, we find;

About three moneths since died M. Robert Greene, leauing many papers in sundry Booke sellers hands, among other his Groatsworth of wit, in which a letter written to diuers play-makers, is offensively by one or two of them taken, and because on the dead they cannot be auenged, they wilfully forge in their concietes a liuing Author: and after tossing it two and fro, no remedy, but it must light on me. How I haue all the time of my conuersing in printing hindred the bitter inueying against schollers, it hath been very well knowne, and how in that I dealt I can sufficiently prooue. With neither of them that take offence was I acquainted, and with one of them I care not if I neuer be: The other, whome at that time I did not so much spare, as since I wish I had, for that as I haue moderated the heate of liuing writers, and might haue vsde my owne discretion, (especially in such a case) the Author beeing dead, that I did not, I am as very, as if the originall fault had beene my fault, because my selfe haue scene his demeanor no lesse ciuill than he exclent in the qualitie he professes

With this very public apology & refutation of Greene’s attack, Shakespeare, it seems, had become the darling of the London’s Theatre world. There would be no looking back!


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